Facing his erstwhile boyfriend’s wedding to another man, his 50th birthday, and his publisher’s rejection of his latest manuscript, a miserable midlist novelist heads for the airport.
When it comes to the literary canon, Arthur Less knows he is “as superfluous as the extra a in quaalude,” but he does get the odd invitation—to interview a more successful author, to receive an obscure prize, to tour French provincial libraries, that sort of thing. So rather than stay in San Francisco and be humiliated when his younger man of nine years' standing marries someone else (he can’t bear to attend, nor can he bear to stay home), he puts together a patchwork busman’s holiday that will take him to Paris, Morocco, Berlin, Southern India, and Japan. Of course, anything that can go wrong does—from falling out a window to having his favorite suit eaten by a stray dog, and as far as Less runs, he will not escape the fact that he really did lose the love of his life. Meanwhile, there’s no way to stop that dreaded birthday, which he sees as the definitive end of a rather extended youth: “It’s like the last day in a foreign country. You finally figure out where to get coffee, and drinks, and a good steak. And then you have to leave. And you won’t ever be back.” Yet even this conversation occurs in the midst of a make-out session with a handsome Spanish stranger on a balcony at a party in Paris…hinting that there may be steaks and coffee on the other side. Upping the tension of this literary picaresque is the fact that the story is told by a mysterious narrator whose identity and role in Less’ future is not revealed until the final pages.
Seasoned novelist Greer (The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells, 2013, etc.) clearly knows whereof he speaks and has lived to joke about it. Nonstop puns on the character’s surname aside, this is a very funny and occasionally wise book.